SERMONS FROM THE HEIGHTS
by Randy L. Hyde, D. Min., APC
Senior Pastor, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church
July 15, 2007
“THE MISSIONAL JESUS”
Psalm 82:1-8; Luke 10:25-37
Jesus is at it again. Look it up and you will find that more often than not, when asked a question or confronted with a riddle or placed in a situation in which an answer is demanded, he refuses to go along. Questions put to him are answered by questions of his own. Riddles give way to parables, and sticky situations get a response that puts the answer back on those who have confronted him. Happens all the time. As I said, you can look it up.
To our knowledge, Jesus never went to rabbinical school, but he learned this somewhere. You see, it was a favorite ploy of the rabbis.
A minister was once talking to a Jewish friend. He had noted that the Jewish people he knew usually answered a question with a question. “Why do they do
that?” he asked his friend. Whereupon, his Jewish friend answered with a wry
smile, “Why not?”
Luke tells us it was a lawyer who came to Jesus on this particular occasion, asking Jesus a question. “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He asked
this, Luke says, to test Jesus. And, in good rabbinical fashion, Jesus answers his question with a question. “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
If he had been a rabbi instead of a lawyer, the man might have countered with another question. But he wasn’t and he didn’t. He provides the answer, straight out of Torah. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And this time Jesus doesn’t respond with a question. The
man has answered well. “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will
And if the man had been a rabbi instead of a lawyer, the conversation might have ended there. But he wasn’t and it didn’t. Remember, Luke tells us he asked his question to test Jesus. Evidently, in the mind of the lawyer, the test isn’t over. So he continues with his questioning. “And who is my neighbor?”
Luke editorializes about this as well. He says the lawyer asked Jesus this in order to “justify” himself. He first puts Jesus to the test, then seeks to justify himself. What does Luke mean by this? It could mean the lawyer wants Jesus to endorse the way he is living, or that he wants to know what is the least he can do and still receive the blessings of God. What is the least effort he has to exert in order to get the job done?
Have you ever known someone like that? If you’re a school teacher or an employer, or a parent – especially of a teenager – then you have known people like
this. Or perhaps... well, does this describe you?
“And who is my neighbor?” the lawyer wants to know. If he is trying to justify himself, as Luke says, then he really isn’t all that interested in finding out who his neighbor is. He doesn’t want to define neighborliness, he wants to see how
far his limits of responsibility go. He wants to determine the parameters. “What do I have to do? No less, and certainly no more.”
And what does Jesus do? Does he answer him directly? Do I really have to ask? Jesus tells the lawyer a story, what we have come to know as the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Before we go into the elements of the story, let me put on my rabbinical robe and ask you a question. What kind of response do you think Jesus would have gotten from the lawyer – and those who were no doubt standing around listening in
on this conversation – if Jesus had said directly, “Everybody is your neighbor, including the Samaritans”?
Except for the Romans, there was no race of people more despised by the Jews than the Samaritans. And it was mutual, let me tell you. It was the Samaritans who refused to provide hospitality to Jesus and his disciples when they passed through one of their villages. That was the time the brothers Zebedee, James and John, wanted Jesus to call down fire from heaven and consume the village. Trust me, there was no love loss between the Jews and the Samaritans.
In that society, and in that day, hospitality – even if provided grudgingly –
was one of the most important elements of life. To refuse it meant there was such an underlying hatred involved that the hatred was more important than doing the right and good thing. Why, even gentiles provided hospitality to Jews, and Jews to gentiles... that’s how important it was to these people. But when it came to
Samaritans and Jews... well, you might as well forget it. It just ain’t gonna happen.
So if Jesus were to say directly to the lawyer, “Everybody is your neighbor, including the Samaritans,” you can only imagine what the response might have
been. But he doesn’t. Instead, Jesus tells him a story.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho...” When Jesus says
this, those who were listening could almost immediately predict what was going to follow. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known as “The Red and Bloody
Way.” It was a winding, precipitous journey, with a drop of almost 3600 feet, along which thieves and robbers were known to accost travelers on a regular basis. To make that trip was to practically ask for trouble.
As you know, the man is robbed and beaten, stripped of his clothing and possessions, and left for dead. A priest comes by, sees the man, and passes by on the other side. A Levite does the same. If you want to know the difference between a priest and Levite – to put it in terms we might all understand – it is like a pastor
and a deacon.
But then, a Samaritan comes by. Seeing the man, knowing he is Jew, but not caring because what he sees is not a Jew but a man in need, the Samaritan has pity on him. He binds his wounds, puts him on his own animal, brings him to an inn,
and gives the innkeeper money with which to take care of the man’s needs. Not only that, he gives the innkeeper a promise. He will come by again, and if the man’s needs require more payment, he will see that it is taken care of.
There’s another element to this story that, if I had noticed it before, I had either forgotten it or it had not made that much of an impression on me. But it did this time, which is why, no matter how well you think you know scripture, it always has something new to teach you if you’re willing to give some time to it. Jesus says the Samaritan “took care” of the man. The next day is when he gave money to the innkeeper and told him he would return. “The next day.” That means on the first night the Samaritan stayed with the man and nursed him. In other words, he didn’t just drop the man off, slap a few coins on the counter and take his leave. He stayed with the injured man and personally saw to his needs. I’m not sure
I had noticed that before.
I’ll tell you what I had noticed... that I have far more in common with the other two – the priest and the Levite, the pastor and the deacon – than I do with the
Samaritan. And you know what? That makes me feel more like the problem than the solution.
Did you see the article in last Sunday’s newspaper about Christopher Hitchens? The chain-smoking, hard-drinking Hitchens is author of God Is Not
Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. You might surmise from the title of his
book that he is definitely not a church-going Baptist. In fact, Hitchens thinks organized religion is the cause of all of society’s ills, from wars to terrorism, from hatred to ethnic cleansing. You name it... if it’s bad, religion is the dirty culprit.
The parable of the Good Samaritan, I would think – if he is aware of it –
would cause Christopher Hitchens to absolutely salivate. After all, it’s the two religious figures, the priest and the Levite, who are the bad guys in Jesus’ story. They are bad, not because of what they do, but because of what they don’t do. They cross the road to avoid helping the poor man who has been left dead by robbers. And in Hitchens’ mind, that is just the kind of behavior religious people exhibit.
No doubt, they’ve got their reasons to walk on the other side. Good reasons. Not only are they busy, but to touch the bloody man would render them unclean. If
they are unclean, they cannot perform the functions for which they are responsible. And they are responsible... for many good things and many good people. So they cannot get involved.
That’s all religion is good for, Hitchens would say, to ignore the real problems in our world. Except, he would go beyond that to say that it is religion which causes such terrible things in the first place.
And he’s got a point... to a degree. There’s no doubt that it was a rabid form of religion that led to the Crusades. Much of the problems our world is experiencing right now – from Afghanistan to Iraq to Darfur – is based on a
misplaced religious triumphalism caused by zealous beliefs, by the attitude that whoever does not share your particular religious convictions is the infidel or is unsaved. Trace the history of our world through the wars that have been waged, and more often than not, religion is the root cause of it all. As much as I hate to admit it, Hitchens has a point. But only to a certain, and very small, degree.
We must admit that knowing the right thing to do, and then doing it, does not come naturally to us. It’s certainly not natural, say, like breathing. We have to make a conscious decision that we will act in a certain way, and then do it.
I saw a feature on TV the other day in which several women had lost tremendous amounts of weight. In every case, they said that something finally snapped in their brain. There was an inner voice that told them they couldn’t continue to go on the way they were, seeking solace in food, ignoring the signs of a very unhealthy lifestyle. One day, each of the women said, something – some inner
impulse – triggered a response in them that said, “You’ve got to do something about this.” And they did.
I do believe there comes a point in one’s spiritual journey when you have to look in the mirror and confront who you really are, to listen for the voice that says, “You’ve got to do something about this.”
The parable of the Good Samaritan is about doing... doing the right thing when the situation calls for it, not hesitating to get one’s hands dirty but plunging into the middle of whatever circumstance presents itself to you. Does it come naturally? No. Like losing weight, it takes initiative and desire. We are able to
respond, as the Samaritan did, only when we have learned to walk with God, have developed an intimate relationship with the One who redeems us and calls us to a higher purpose in life.
The word “missional” is fairly new to our church lexicon. In fact, when I first started using it my word processing spell-checker flagged it in red, telling me it is not a word. Yet, what better term to describe the kind of people Jesus wants us to be? Missional. In fact, Jesus has modeled the word for us, and this story of the Samaritan illustrates it perfectly.
Being missional means that in the name of Christ we meet the needs we see, we plunge into the situations with which we are confronted, and we do not stop long enough to count the consequences... because, if we do, the consequences will cause us to freeze up and we will not do what the voice of Jesus is telling us to do.
Clarence Jordan, the founder of Koinonia Farm and mentor to Millard Fuller who began Habitat for Humanity, once confronted his brother about this very issue. He asked his brother, an attorney, to provide legal counsel for his ministry. His brother turned him down, worried about what it would do to his law practice. You see, at Koinonia Farm, black people lived and worked and worshiped with white folk... in south Georgia... in the 50's and 60's. Imagine. Well, a lot of people couldn’t imagine it, and that included Jordan’s own brother.
“I follow Jesus,” he said in response to Jordan’s request, “up to a point.” Clarence responded, “Could that point, by any chance, be – the cross?”
“That’s right. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.”
“Then I don’t believe you’re a disciple,” Jordan told him. “You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple...”
There is a difference, isn’t there? A difference that requires a choice of whether we will be like our missional Jesus or simply admire him. Having considered that, is it all right with you if I end this sermon in rabbinical fashion by asking a question?
What choice will we make?
Lord, there comes a time in life when we must make a choice. If that time is now for some of us, give us the courage to make it... like the Samaritan did, like Jesus did. Amen.